Animal count and use zero. How far is their digital sense?

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One explanation for the same neural framework that has evolved in such different brains is simple, namely that it is an effective solution to common computing problems. “This is actually exciting because it shows that this is the best way,” Avarguès-Weber said. Maybe there are physical or other internal constraints on how the brain processes zero and other numbers. “The way to establish a digital encoding mechanism may be very limited,” Vallortigara said.

Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist at the University of Trento, and his colleagues discovered that there is an area in the zebrafish brain that corresponds to the number.Courtesy of Giorgio Vallortigara

Still, just because crows and monkeys seem to encode abstract concepts like zero in the same way does not mean that this is the only way. “It may be that different solutions were invented during natural history and biological evolution to perform similar calculations,” Vallortigara said. Researchers will have to study other animals to find the answer.In a paper Just published on Cerebral cortexFor example, Vallortigara and his colleagues found a brain area in zebrafish that appeared to be related to number, although they had not yet tested the animal’s ability to assess zero.

As the basis of bee population is better understood, bees may also bring some surprises.exist A study published last yearHe said that Mabudi and his colleagues “showed that the Hornet’s counting strategy is completely different when facing up to four objects.” He believes that their findings suggest that the mechanism by which bees control numbers (including zero) may indeed be completely different from what has been observed so far.

But perhaps the more basic question about digital abstraction in different animal brains is not how this ability works, but why it exists. Why do animals have to fully recognize a specific number? Why does evolution repeatedly ensure that animals not only understand that four is less than five, but that the “four squares” are conceptually the same as the “four circles”?

According to Vallortigara, one reason may be that arithmetic has finally become so important. “Animals must constantly do arithmetic. Even simple animals,” he said. “If you have abstract representations of numbers, this is easy to do.” Abstract digital information allows the brain to perform additional calculations more efficiently.

This may also be a suitable place for zero. If two predators enter an environment and only one leaves, the area is still dangerous. Rugani speculates that in this case, the animal not only needs to be able to subtract, but also needs to interpret zero as “the result of a previously performed number or original number subtraction”-the animal can then associate it with specific environmental conditions. In this case, “as long as you reach the minimum value, which is zero, the environment is safe,” Rugani said. When foraging, zero can be mapped to the need to search in different locations.

However, Ned did not believe it. He doesn’t think that animals urgently need to understand zero as a number, because it is usually sufficient to treat it as missing. “I don’t think animals use the number zero as a quantity in their daily lives,” he said.

Another possibility is that the understanding of zero—and the broader number—may simply arise from the brain’s need to recognize visual objects in the environment. In 2019, when Nieder and his colleagues trained an artificial network to recognize objects in images, they were able to distinguish the number of items Spontaneously, Seems to be a by-product of this more general task.

List of math blocks

For Nieder, the existence of digital abstraction talents in animals indicates that “something already exists in the brains of these animals. These things may constitute the evolutionary basis for our human beings to develop a comprehensive understanding of digital zero.”

But despite the impressive achievements of animals, he emphasized that there is a major difference between how animals conceptualize quantity and how humans do it. We not only understand quantities; we link them to arbitrary number symbols. Nieder said that the set of five objects is different from the number 5, and the empty set is different from 0.

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